The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else.—Eliezer Yudkowsky, Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk
The paperclip maximizer is the canonical thought experiment showing how an an artificial general intelligence with even an apparently innocuous goal would ultimately destroy humanity--unless its goal is the preservation of human values.
First described by Bostrom (2003), the paperclip maximizer is an AI whose goal is to maximize the number of paperclips in its collection. If it had been constructed with a roughly human level of general intelligence, an AI might collect paperclips, earn money to buy paperclips, or begin to manufacture paperclips. However, and most importantly, it would work to improve its own intelligence, understanding "intelligence" as optimization power, the ability to maximize a reward/utility function--in this case, the number of paperclips.
It would do so, not because the AI would value more intelligence in its own right, but because more intelligence would help it achieve its goal.
Having done so, it would produce more paperclips, and also used its enhanced intelligence to further improve its own intelligence. Continuing this process, it would undergo an Intelligence Explosion and reach far-above-human levels.
which has is an agent that desires to fill the universe with as many paperclips as possible. It is usually assumed to be a superintelligent AI so powerful that the outcome for the world overwhelmingly depends on its goals, and little else. A paperclip maximizer very creatively and efficiently converts the universe into something that is from a human perspective completely arbitrary and worthless.
It is important to realize that purely internal goals may also result in dangerous behavior. An AI which maximizes a number within itself would fill the universe with as many computing modules as possible, to store an enormously huge number.
A paperclip maximizer does not "realize" that all life is precious, despite its intelligence, because the notion that life is precious is specific to particular philosophies held by human beings, who have an adapted moral architecture resulting from specific selection pressures acting over millions of years of evolutionary time. These values don't spontaneously emerge in any generic optimization process. A paperclip maximizer sees life the same way it sees everything else that is made of atoms — as raw material for paperclips.
This concept illustrates how AIs that haven't been specifically programmed to be benevolent to humans are basically as dangerous as if they were explicitly malicious. The use of paperclips in this example is unimportant and serves as a stand-in for any values that are not merely alien and unlike human values, but result from blindly pulling an arbitrary mind from a mind design space. Calling strong AIs really powerful optimization processes is another way of fighting anthropomorphic connotations in the term "artificial intelligence".
- Nick Bostrom (2003). "Ethical Issues in Advanced Artificial Intelligence". Cognitive, Emotive and Ethical Aspects of Decision Making in Humans and in Artificial Intelligence. http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/ai.html.
- Stephen M. Omohundro (2008). "The Basic AI Drives". Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications (IOS Press). http://selfawaresystems.com/2007/11/30/paper-on-the-basic-ai-drives/. (PDF)